Inclusion Vs. Exclusion

You’re welcome.

Such a simple, elegant phrase. Such a kind and decent concept. I don’t know why so many people struggle with it.

There are so many out there who make it a point to say just the opposite. You’re not welcome. You shouldn’t be able to come here. You can’t buy my cake. You should sit at the back of the bus. You shouldn’t be allowed to marry the person that you love. You are not welcome to be a part of our club. You shouldn’t have the right to vote. You can’t rent my apartment. You don’t belong here. America used to be great when we didn’t have to treat you with respect. How dare you speak up? We get to control what you do with your body. You must be walled off. You must be silenced.

We see it everywhere. In the red MAGA hats, in the “lock her up!” chants, in the attacks on innocent people on the streets. We see it in the hatred that oozes from the mouth of the very man who is supposed to lead this country. You’re not welcome. You are an enemy of the people.

Hate makes you look ugly. It reveals the disease in your very soul. It makes us all so much less than what we could be.

When you hate, when you marginalize people, when you try to prevent people from having the same rights that you do, you cause suffering in this world. Why would anyone want to do that? I will never understand it as long as I live.

When you find yourself in a place of inclusion, where people are welcoming and accepting and embracing of your unique qualities, it’s such a freeing experience. I’d rather be wrapped in a rainbow than beaten by a tiki torch any day of the week. That should be obvious. Why isn’t it obvious?

I’m feeling very ineloquent about this whole subject compared to the conversation Ellen Page had with Stephen Colbert recently. Check out the video here. It’s really worth watching.

Thanks, Lee (and Ellen Page) for inspiring this post!

Not Welcome

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Microinsurance Could Transform the Face of Disaster Recovery

I absolutely love being in awe of friends. Recently, my friend Areiel Wolanow did a presentation before British Parliament, so you can imagine how proud I am to know this man. Actually, no you probably can’t, because my pride is off the charts.

Areiel is the Managing Director of Finserv Experts, a consulting firm that applies its expertise in technology to help transform businesses. One such area of expertise is in blockchain services. This is where things start getting completely over my head.

It seems that blockchain can take out the intermediators between producers and consumers, thus saving both of them time, effort, and money. (This makes me think of travel agents. Who uses them anymore? Now we can search for our plane tickets over the phone. I’ll let Areiel explain if I’m getting the gist of it below.)

But Areiel has put an even more humanitarian spin on the blockchain idea, by working toward using it to make insurance available to those who couldn’t otherwise access or afford it. Imagine, having your whole life wiped out by a tsunami, for example, and because you got some microinsurance from a phone app, you can now use another phone to get a payout that will help support you for a year while you get back on your feet. I don’t know about you, but I think the world could use fewer FEMA trailers! This could make that happen.

But I’ll let Areiel explain it in more detail.

The View from a Drawbridge: Please explain in layman’s terms, what microinsurance is.

Areiel Wolonow: In the most simple terms, microinsurance is simply insurance for small amounts.  But beneath this simple idea are some very powerful effects.  For instance, less than 9% of people in the world have health insurance, and unplanned health spending is one of the leading causes of people going into poverty.

Historically, it has not been possible to provide insurance to people in most parts of the world.  There are two main reasons for this:

  • The cost of administering an insurance policy isn’t that much different regardless of whether the policy covers two hundred dollars or two million dollars. As a result, insurance companies cannot afford to provide policies for smaller amounts without charging premiums that would be exorbitantly high.

  • When it comes time to pay a claim, the costs of paying the claim can often exceed the claim itself. For instance, when a tsunami Indonesia or flooding in Bangladesh occurs, the only way insurance companies could pay claims was to literally send someone out in a helicopter with a briefcase full of cash.  This is a very slow, unsafe, and expensive way of doing business, and adds even more cost to the premium.  Even the most socially responsible insurers could not avoid a pricing policy that was deeply regressive, charging the highest percentage premium to the people who could afford it the least.

What’s happening now, however, is that technology has ways of addressing both of these problems.  A combination of blockchain and mobile technology makes it possible to originate and service insurance with a minimum of human intervention.  Machine learning and integration to weather satellites makes it possible to pay claims immediately when a tsunami, flooding, or other natural disaster happens without the time and expense of having humans investigate the claim.  In the insurance industry, this is called parametric insurance, and it’s a game changer because everyone wins – the company saves huge amounts of cost investigating claims and the customer gets paid right away rather than going through the long and sometimes confusing claims adjustment process.

Technology also helps when it comes to paying the claims.  Most parts of the world now have reliable mobile wallets  (in fact the penetration of mobile payments in Indonesia and Bangladesh, even amongst the poor, far outpaces the US; this is one of many areas in technology where we are falling further behind).  This makes it possible to pay claims directly into people’s mobile wallets.  No more helicopters and suitcases of cash.

Can you tell me more about how your company, Finserv Experts, is working with blockchain to provide microinsurance solutions for natural disasters in Indonesia?

Finserv Experts is a small consultancy that I founded about 2.5 years ago, after being with IBM for nearly 12 years.  We provide both advisory and solution delivery services for transformational financial services.  For almost that entire time we have been supporting one of our clients, a regional insurer,  on a project to provide microinsurance in Indonesia.  The pilot for this program has been successfully running for two years now, and as a result our client and we have been asked to consider building a platform for scaling our solution nationally.

How will this transform the way that communities recover from natural disasters?

It is actually quite difficult to comprehend the enormity of impact that availability of insurance can have on a community.  The first impact is the effect of the insurance itself.  In our pilot program, the insurance policy is bundled with small business loans.  If a natural disaster occurs, the policy pays off the loan as well as providing the policy holder an equivalent of one year’s income to help them get back on their feet.  This is a meaningful change all by itself, but the follow-on impacts are even greater

  • The existence of the policy makes these small businesses much more creditworthy. Tsunamis, flooding, and the like are common enough that investors will often demand huge price premiums in exchange for providing loan capital; in many cases they won’t be willing at all.  The existence of this policy makes others more willing to lend money, and at more reasonable rates

  • In the same way, the existence of these policies makes it much easier for people to start new businesses. A study in Tanzania showed that of all one-person businesses in the country, only 2% would ever grow to the point that they had ten employees, but that 2% was the source of over 25% of all new jobs created.  Imagine what a difference we could make if, by making it possible for more people to start businesses, we could move that to 3%.   A small change in the success rate would have a huge impact

  • The biggest change of all, however, is land reform. A surprising fact is that even in some of the poorer regions of the world, there are many people who could afford to buy a home, but are unable to obtain a mortgage because banks will not provide one without insurance.  Access to locally insured mortgages could quite literally be a path out of serfdom for millions of people.

As the threat of global warming increases, the world will experience even more natural disasters. Are you planning to branch out to other countries?

Absolutely.  We are already working on plans to scale our solution beyond Indonesia, but we still have to focus on making Indonesia successful first.  Also, our plan calls for working with local partners in each country.  Enabling local success is the right way to go for both social and commercial reasons.  The whole reason I got into financial inclusion in the first place was the realization was that all the monetary aid in the world, however well intentioned, wasn’t even making a dent in world poverty – there is too much corruption, and aid isn’t sustainable – even the most charitable people in the world can’t keep giving and giving and giving.  Sustainable eradication of poverty only comes through local success.

Have you considered making it possible for people to microinvest in providing microinsurance to people in third world countries? Perhaps something along the lines of the microloans people like me can provide to participants in Kiva.org, only with some sort of minimal return on the investment? I know a lot of people who would like to be investors but don’t have the huge sums of money that investing usually requires. Do you think blockchain could also be used in that way?

I think about this a lot actually, but have been leery of doing anything because of how hard it is to provide a level of transparency that I would find satisfactory if I were an investor myself.  A good number of the world’s microfinance are simply scams, while others charge their lenders rates that are regressive if not outright extortionate.  Blockchain may indeed be very useful in providing the necessary transparency, as well as enabling a business model that allowed for much lower rates, both for loans and insurance premiums.  The initial results look very promising, but I want to see them proven a bit more before making any grandiose claims about what might be possible.

Is there anyplace where people can read and/or hear your presentation to Parliament?

These sessions are filmed, but it normally takes 6-8 weeks before they are published.  I will let you know as soon as the video is up on the site.

Thank you, Areiel! I’ll post the link here when it comes available. And I have to say, I’m even more in awe of you after this interview than I was before it. Keep up the good work!

1200px-US_Navy_050102-N-9593M-040_A_village_near_the_coast_of_Sumatra_lays_in_ruin_after_the_Tsunami_that_struck_South_East_Asia
A village near the coast of Sumatra lays in ruin after the Tsunami that struck South East Asia

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Another Feminist Wedge Issue

If you believe that women should have the same rights as men (and why anyone wouldn’t believe that is beyond me, since we’re not a subspecies), then you’re a feminist whether you admit it or not. I happen to be a feminist, loud and proud. But I’m willing to concede that the movement itself sometimes frustrates the hell out of me.

There is so much work to do that all sorts of side issues crop up that cause infighting and divisions. I think these wedge issues, while often very important in and of themselves, are counterproductive to the movement as a whole. We shouldn’t be fighting amongst ourselves. That gets us nowhere.

There are debates as to whether the transgender community should be included in the movement. There are debates as to whether men should be aggressively kept out of the movement or be allowed to participate. Some feminists treat stay at home mothers and sex workers as if they have sold out. Others feel that women of color have been marginalized in the movement for so long that they should be its only leaders now. We butt heads about abortion and the death penalty, too.

The newest wedge issue that I’ve noticed centers around the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Many view Palestinian women as some of the most oppressed women in the world, and they feel that if we don’t support all oppressed women, we don’t support women, full stop. Others feel that this issue is simply an attempt to exclude and alienate Jewish women.

I’m not expressing any opinion about any of the above topics in this post. But I will say this: any issue that excludes people from sitting at the table, or prevents anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, religion, career choices, or what have you, from showing up and speaking out, has no place in my feminism. We all need to come together and empower each other, and we do that by setting aside our prejudices and differences and looking at the bigger picture.

I recently wrote about the Seattle Womxn’s March, and what a joyful experience it was. I still believe that. But I must say that there was one moment of tension that I didn’t appreciate. One side of the Palestinian-Israeli debate was out there with a bullhorn, chanting their opinion. Many of us supported that opinion, and in another march I might have chanted along with them. But I could also see that it was making a lot of women in the crowd extremely tense. I felt like the situation took away from the march as a whole. For a few minutes there, I didn’t want to be where I was. And that’s the last thing any movement needs.

Should we ignore these issues entirely? Definitely not. They are important. But it’s absurd to expect every single one of us to agree on every single thing. So rather than have these issues fracture the entire movement, we should focus on having a core movement, and then also break out in focus groups to support or oppose these related topics as well. Otherwise, we’re cutting off our noses to spite our faces.

I don’t know about you, but I happen to like my nose.

wedge

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Hadestown and Why We Build the Wall

A friend of mine sent me a link to a song called Why We Build the Wall, and it is so apropos that it sent chills up my spine. But the irony is that the singer/songwriter, Anaïs Mitchell, didn’t write it recently. In fact, she said, “This song is ten years old… Any resemblance of any contemporary political figures to the King of the Underworld is purely coincidental.”

She wrote the song to be included in a musical called Hadestown, and that play has gotten a bit of a revival of late. It will be playing Broadway in 2019, and they’ve announced a London run as well. If it ever tours this country and comes anywhere near Seattle, I definitely want to see it.

What I find most amusing about this song is that Trump supporters think it’s pro-wall, and that building a wall actually makes us free. So they tend to like the song, too. But in fact, if you listen to the lyrics closely, and actually know the background story of the play, you know that this is Hades attempt to distract the people of Hadestown. He wants to keep them busy, so he can maintain control. He gives them convenient sound bites to repeat until they believe what they’re doing is the right thing. Sound familiar?

Here are the lyrics, but I hope you’ll click on the link to the song above and actually hear it. Only then will you experience it fully, and hopefully realize that walls don’t just keep people out, they keep us in. In fear.

It makes me wonder why we’re being distracted. I mean, we all kind of know. But what don’t we know?

Why We Build the Wall by Anaïs Mitchell

HADES
Why do we build the wall?
My children, my children,
Why do we build the wall?

CERBERUS
Why do we build the wall?
We build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
How does the wall keep us free?
My children, my children,
How does the wall keep us free?

CERBERUS
How does the wall keep us free?
The wall keeps out the enemy
And we build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
Who do we call the enemy?
My children, my children,
Who do we call the enemy?

CERBERUS
Who do we call the enemy?
The enemy is poverty,
And the wall keeps out the enemy,
And we build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
Because we have and they have not!
My children, my children,
Because they want what we have got!

CERBERUS
Because we have and they have not!
Because they want what we have got!
The enemy is poverty,
And the wall keeps out the enemy,
And we build the wall to keep us free.
That’s why we build the wall;
We build the wall to keep us free.

HADES
What do we have that they should want?
My children, my children,
What do we have that they should want?

CERBERUS
What do we have that they should want?
We have a wall to work upon!
We have work and they have none,
And our work is never done,
My children, my children,
And the war is never won.
The enemy is poverty,
And the wall keeps out the enemy,
And we build the wall to keep us free;
That’s why we build the wall.
We build the wall to keep us free.
We build the wall to keep us free.

Special thanks to M for inspiring this post!

hadestown

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Wolf Connection

Once again, by listening to NPR on my commute to work, I’ve learned something that has broadened my horizons. This time it’s about an organization with a unique way of helping at-risk youth. It’s called Wolf Connection. (You can hear the inspiring 4 1/2 minute story here.)

This organization serves a variety of amazing purposes. First, it is a wolfdog sanctuary. Many people think having a wolf/dog mix will make for an exotic pet, but soon learn that they can’t really handle the responsibilities thereof. Often these animals get abused or neglected or put to sleep, as most shelters will not put them up for adoption. Fortunately, in cases like this, Wolf Connection can sometimes step in and give them a forever home where they work with handlers who understand their unique qualities and special needs.

This group also does presentations for schools and organizations. Using wolves as a focal point is an exciting way to teach students about the environment, human history and evolution, teamwork and ethics. Wolves are, after all, the first creatures that we humans made a long-term connection with.

But for me, their most exciting mission is their Wolf Therapy program. This eight week program for troubled teens who have been abused, or have been in and out of foster care, or were in gangs, is a really impactful way to reach kids who have rendered themselves unreachable out of pure survival.

First of all, they can relate to these animals, because they, too have been abused. And wolves don’t judge. Wolves can teach us much about teamwork and cooperation. They show us the value of being okay with who we are, just as we are. They teach us how and when to trust. Working with these animals can increase confidence and self-esteem and teach valuable vocational and life skills. The program also teaches you to be more introspective.

I love it when I see so many positives coming out of an organization. You can sponsor one of their wolves, too. By doing so, you’re also investing in the future of our youths. Win/win.

wolves

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Raising Bullies and Bigots

By now, everyone knows about the actions of the ignorant little punks from Covington Catholic High School in Covington, Kentucky. That these privileged little private school boys had the nerve to wear their Make America Great Again hats and get into the face of a Native American elder who was simply trying to diffuse a situation, and who had proudly served this country before their repugnant butts were even born is beyond outrageous.

One of the boys in question is saying that he didn’t do anything but stand his ground and the gentleman approached him first. No, you stood your ground with a MAGA hat on, which is a symbol for hate, and you had a smug smile on your face, and an unblinking stare, a sign of aggression, while your friends continued to taunt and ridicule. There’s a distinction. It wasn’t as though you were putting your arm around the guy and asking for a selfie.

In fairness, the high school does not condone the actions of these kids, and has an apology prominently placed on its website. That’s further proof that the actions were inappropriate. But one wonders what kind of tolerance they teach at a school with this as the mascot:

covington catholic's mascot

Here are some lessons neither they nor these kids’ parents seem to be teaching:

  • Respect your elders. All of them. Even if you don’t agree with them.

  • Walk through the world with dignity, and don’t deprive others of theirs.

  • Be polite. Especially when you are a visitor.

  • Aggression is intolerable.

  • Hate is the most blatant form of ignorance.

  • You have no right to invade someone else’s space.

  • Kindness and decency is the only true currency you have.

  • NO ONE has the right to be a bully.

If I could speak to those boys I would say, “This video will follow you for the rest of your life. Hopefully you’re capable of shame and remorse and this will build your character. If not, you are psychopaths, and you are in serious need of intervention. Seriously. You should be worried. Get help.”

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Should Congress Be Paid During a Shutdown?

I was discussing this on Facebook recently. I find it rather outrageous that our President, along with Congress, can cause the longest government shutdown in our nation’s history, and not have to feel any of the pain themselves. Granted, 45 is a millionaire, as is 25% of the House and 50% of the Senate, so they probably wouldn’t feel it very much. But if you’re going to turn thousands of people into unpaid slaves, and thrust even more into financial destitution, all for your own political douchebaggery, then you ought to pay some sort of price.

It does turn out that Congress has completely separate fiscal funding for a very good reason. This was put into place so that the executive branch couldn’t force Congress into compliance by withholding its pay. It was all about separation of powers. This applies to the judicial branch as well. That makes perfect sense to me.

However, I think we need to make it a requirement that Congress and the White House can’t force We, the People, into compliance by withholding our pay, too. They shouldn’t be able to make the nation suffer without suffering themselves.

We need to only elect people who are willing to agree not to draw a salary whenever the government is unfunded. Congress could also do this with a simple resolution. I suspect you’d see some very different motivation if that were the case.

I also think that if Congress and the President are going to get us involved in wars on foreign soil, thus forcing a percentage of our children into battle zones, then a certain percentage of their children should have to go as well. This could be done in a special draft system.

And if you’re going to vote that things like waterboarding aren’t torture, then you should first have to experience it once yourself, right in the capital rotunda. And politicians should also have to drink the same water as the citizens of Flint, Michigan, and eat the same lunch as the average elementary school student. Fair’s fair.

I’m sick and tired of these politicians sitting up there on some protected cloud of privilege while they have the potential to make life miserable for the rest of us.

(A special thanks to my friend Areiel for helping me flesh out my thinking about this idea.)

union_activists_rally_in_dallas_to_end_the_shutdown_(39739874633)

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